Founding On Our Backs
The women who founded and created On Our Backs’ first issues represented nearly as broad a spectrum of lesbians as the magazine hoped to reach: butch and femme feminists, S/M “leatherdykes,” sex workers, zine makers, punk musicians, Marxists, “out” gay artists, Women’s Studies scholars. The idea for the magazine originated with Debi Sundahl, Nan Kinney, and Myrna Elana. Sundahl and Kinney were lovers, and the three were friends and roommates in the storied countercultural capital of San Francisco, the Haight-Ashbury neighborhood. Sundahl was a femme stripper at straight clubs like the Lusty Lady and Mitchell Brothers O’Farrell Theater who danced under the name Fanny Fatale; Kinney was a butch lesbian and former university Physical Education teacher who worked for Pacific Gas and Electric and eventually became, Sundahl claimed, “the first woman to wear a suit—a real suit and tie—every week to the strip club.” They and Elana were all members of Samois, a pioneering and influential lesbian S/M group. Its newsletter, which the three helped to edit, and other publications by Samois members formed an important part of lesbian media of the early 1980s.
Sundahl and Elana co-edited and co-published the first issue of On Our Backs, sending it off into the world with an excited and gracious introductory letter proclaiming 1984 “The Year of the Lustful Lesbian” and the magazine “the product of many dykes’ dreams!” Susie Bright, a former high-school underground press activist and early employee of the women-focused Good Vibrations sex shop, was the first issue’s advertising director and contributing poet. She took over Elana’s editorial duties for the second issue and served as editor until 1991.
Bright’s partner then was Honey Lee Cottrell, a photographer and film studies graduate whose photographs of women had notably appeared in I Am My Lover (Down There Press, 1978), a collaboration with Good Vibrations founder Joani Blank and photographer Tee Corinne that taught female sexual empowerment through masturbation. Cottrell was On Our Backs’ first staff photographer and was responsible for most of the photographic images in the magazine’s early issues, including its first centerfold, “Bulldagger of the Season.” The cover image of the first issue was by photographer LA “Happy” Hyder, who was also the magazine’s first administrator. The tough leather jacket on model Miki Patrillo “seemed to scare a lot of people,” as Bright recounted later. The team presented a softer, more romantic image, by Dawn Lewis, on the cover of their second issue, affirming their desire to consider all readers’ sexual tastes equally.
 Guy, “Wanting Pictures,” 321. ↩
 Christi Cassidy, “Opening Pandora’s Box,” in American Queer, Now and Then, eds. David Shneer and Caryn Aviv (New York: Routledge, 2006), 102–105. ↩
 Cassidy, “Opening,” 105. ↩